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The team behind the (Dakar) team or five short stories of love and passion – Part 2

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262977_sam.sunderland_stage6_Red-Bull-KT

The team behind the (Dakar) team or five short stories of love and passion – Part 2

The Dakar Rally is a massive operation, therefore it requires more working hands and ingenious minds than any other cross-country rally of the season. This year, the team backing up the Red Bull KTM Factory Riders included 33 members, achieving a historical result under the command of new team leader, Jordi Viladoms. We talked to five of those who joined the orange family only for Dakar.

They came to Lima to take care of riders, team, trucks, motorhomes, and KTM customers. How did they join KTM´s Dakar operation, and what are their roles? How was it once upon a time in Africa, what has changed, what has remained exactly the same, and what’s love got to do with it?

Everything!

262977_sam.sunderland_stage6_Red-Bull-KT

Red Bull KTM Rally Factory Racing Team Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Andreas Fisher, physiotherapist
When asked how he ended up in the trouble called the Dakar, Andy scratches his head: “It’s a really long story.” However, it’s an interesting one, so we’ll make it short. Andy’s Dakar sort of started playing American football in the second German league. He was 22 when he met Ilona, who was dating his teammate as well as working for KTM. When, later, Ilona became Pit Beirer’s wife, Andy would become his physio. “It was in 2002 and motocross rider, Pit Beirer had a contract with KTM. One day, out of the blue, Ilona asked me if I could check his ankle. I treated him and it worked out fine. This is how I started to work for KTM. I was very fortunate to get the job. I come from sports myself, so for me it was a perfect fit. Firstly, I began to work more seriously with Pit, and later with other motocross riders, preparing them for races.”

In 2012 he was offered to join the rally team and Andy exchanged the track for the desert. Yet his first Dakar was something he could have never imagined. “The first days, it was 49 degrees during the day, and 30 at night. I was sweating in my tent, couldn’t fall asleep, and thinking how I´ll survive this hell. Well, obviously I am still alive and this is my eighth Dakar,” he laughs.

His first “clients” were Marc Coma, Joan Pedrero, Kuba Przygonsky and Kurt Caselli. “I am really sorry for Kurt, he always had a smile on his face for everybody. He was so respectful and grateful, a beautiful soul,” recalls Andy, and adds: “Thanks to the Dakar, I’ve met so many great people, and have seen so many wonderful places. After all these Dakars I’ve done, the beauty of rally for me lies mainly in working for the KTM team. Here no one works alone, we all help each other. My greatest satisfaction is to see that the riders are responding well to my treatment and fighting for victory.” Being one of the most popular team members for obvious reasons (who doesn’t like a massage?), his popularity is well deserved. Andy doesn’t just take care of the physical side of things – his backpack is full of ginger and herbs, and he will always lend an ear if needed.

262235_luciano.benavides_stage2_Red-Bull

Physiotherapy Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Dr. Rolf Michael Krifter, doctor
The paragraph about Dr. Rolf Michael Krifter could have also started “Meet Dr. Michi, the Dakar rookie”, as the Dakar first-timers are called rookies.

There are no coincidences in life, and this law also applies to Michael Krifter, orthopedic surgeon and enduro rider in his free time. He was the last member to join the team, quite literally, as on January 4, he still performed his last urgent surgery. At 5pm, he took off his surgeon gloves, reached the airport at 6pm, and took off for the Dakar at 7pm.

His Dakar affair started when as a kid he was watching Kini racing the Dakar in Africa on late night TV. He felt the ultimate adventure so falling in love with dirt bikes was the logical next step. Nevertheless, there was something he loved more. Observing his grandfather and father working as general practitioners, he knew he wanted to become a doctor too. He did it a bit differently and became an orthopedic surgeon. Between surgeries, once he even went to Libya for a Dakar-like experience, together with the Dakarian Peter Hinterreiter, fell in love with the desert and got a glimpse of what the Dakar might be. Years later, he came in contact with Matthias Walkner. “Matthias was my patient, I treated him, operated one of his friends and one day he said: ‘It would be really cool if you came with us.’ I said: ‘Ok, I’m happy to do it, I just need to know 3 months in advance so I can reschedule my calendar!'” But desert racing is unpredictable and a few days before Christmas 2018, Michael got a call from team manager Jordi Viladoms – and accepted the job. He worked over the holidays, pushed hard to make the Dakar possible, and that was the beginning of something amazing.

“There is no easy way to put this experience into words,” he replies to the basic rookie question. “It’s such an amazing, complex thing. It’s incredible how the members of the team interact; things work easily and almost automatically. On the other hand, it’s so interesting to observe everyone here as a real character! It looks like the secret of this harmony is a common goal: every member of the team wants to win just as bad as the riders do.”

When asked about the riders and his job, Michael takes a deep breath: “I worked a lot with different professional athletes, but I found desert racers are really different. I knew they are risk-takers, though I couldn’t imagine how far they are prepared to go in a sport where you can lose your life over such a small mistake. You can feel they do it because they really love it. Our team has the best riders in the world, and that means they go all-in. Mind should certainly overcome the body if you want to win this extraordinary race, and Toby Price is the best example to prove that. I’ve for sure found a whole new topic to explore within sports medicine,” he concludes.

Still, KTM’s witty doctor didn’t just take care of the riders, but also the whole team, affected by diarrhea and the flu. His “revolutionary” work already began in Lima when he banned junk food from motorhomes and replaced it with healthy calories. “Besides that, I battled hard with torn ligaments, bad bruises, concussions, distortions up to a broken spine, a badly fractured ankle and a poorly healed scaphoid on fire … to get the riders to the finish line,” he adds, a bit proud to contribute to a great result.

262391_toby.price_rest_day_Red-Bull-KTM-

Toby Price (AUS) Dakar 2019 © Marcin Kin

Photos: Marcin Kin


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      Johann Zarco (FRA) MotoGP IRTA Test Sepang (MAL) 2019 © Gold and Goose
      Photos: Sebas Romero | Gold and Goose
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      Tony Cairoli (ITA) KTM 450 SX-F © B. Swijgers
      2) Can the Spaniard get any better?
      Oh yes. Jorge Prado may have continued KTM’s excellent lineage of young and exceptional riding talent ascending to the position of MX2 gold plate holder (think of Townley, Rattray, Musquin, Roczen, Herlings, Tixier, Jonass) and is arguably the most proficient starter seen in Grand Prix in recent memory, but he wasn’t the finished package in 2018. Prado gained ground on Jonass in the standings throughout the season but also matured into a formidable rider of few mistakes that became almost unbeatable in leading from the front. That journey will continue in 2019. Sometimes the youthful impetuosity (he turned 18 in January) was clear in race situations – the Grand Prix of Turkey – was an exhilarating ‘low point’ for the team with the clash between the Spaniard and Jonass on track losing the overall win and inflicting a right knee injury on the Latvian.
      2018 was just the second Grand Prix year for Jorge and saw a stronger and more physical teenager exerting his influence. In 2019 he will have yet more conditioning, experience and a different kind of pressure as ‘the hunted’ rather than ‘the hunter’ but such is his light and care-free (but deadly determined) demeanor that his status in the MXGP paddock is unlikely to be a deciding factor in his performances. Another winter of training with Tony Cairoli and his De Carli crew (plus an undefeated streak in the three round Italian Championship) means Prado will continue sprinting on the fast-track to more brilliance. Could the MXGP class already be knocking come October? If Prado defends the championship, then he’ll be obliged to jump into the premier division according to FIM rules.
      Jorge Prado (ESP) KTM 250 SX-F © B. Swijgers
      3) What about Tom?
      When eighteen-year-old Tom Vialle filled the saddle vacated by Pauls Jonass (the Latvian leaping into the MXGP class) there were a few eyebrows raised. The French youngster is the son of a former Grand Prix rider and had shone through moments of last year’s EMX250 European Championship – the increasingly competitive feeder system to MX2 – but did not boast the kind of record in the junior classes compared to his predecessors.
      Handed a test and chance to impress with the Red Bull KTM, Vialle convinced the expert opinion of former multi world champion, former Belgian MX of Nations Team Manager and KTM Motocross Manager Joël Smets sufficiently to earn one of the most sought after opportunities in the FIM World Championship. The Belgian liked Vialle’s style and character but acknowledged he has to make vast strides in order to place that works KTM 250 SX-F where it needs to be (particularly in the recent context of 2018).
      Unlike most of KTM’s previous MX2 stars Vialle has not been fed-through or groomed by a junior program and it is important to remember that not only is he a rookie in a factory setup but also in Grand Prix. Smets and the team will be looking for signs of progress in 2019 with Vialle already showing the technique and desire needed to make the cut.
      Aside from this interesting new story keep an eye on two more KTM prospects in the EMX European championship in the forms of Austrian Rene Hofer (racing a KTM 250 SX-F for the first time) and Liam Everts on the KTM 125 SX.
      Tom Vialle (FRA) KTM 250 SX-F © R. Archer
      Photos: B. Swijgers | R. Archer
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